By Jennifer Adams, founder of TV travel series Places We Go, mother of 7 year-old daughter Charli, and lover of the adventurous life.
Discovering Adventure In The Southern Great Barrier Reef
Adventure to me is quite personal. It’s about feeling like I am doing something a little more unique, a little less mainstream, and that sensation like I am discovering something totally new.
In Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef and Sandstone Wilderness regions I discovered just that. I might be a Queensland boy born and raised, but this enormous region stretching roughly 300km between Bundaberg and Yeppoon on the coast, and an area a little bigger than Tassie inland, was a complete surprise to me.
First of all, you are away from the big crowds. You will find a relaxed mix of visitors here but you can’t help but feel like you have stepped off the mainstream tourist path. You actually feel like you are unlocking the secrets of this region and you want to keep them to yourself for this very reason.
I started my adventure near the regional centre of Yeppoon, a tropical and laid-back coastal town with a beautiful foreshore and scenic views of the Southern Great Barrier Reef islands.
I kicked back at my holiday park, the BIG4 Capricorn Palms Holiday Village, for a few days to get a lay of the land, and also base myself while I took a day trip to Great Keppel Island. The holiday park had a chilled out atmosphere perfect for adults and kids alike. Plenty of people simply relaxed on their cabin verandahs or by their campsites, whilst kids tired themselves out on the waterslide and play areas.
I jumped on the Keppel Konnections ferry and 30 minutes later was stepping off into clear waters lapping the white sandy beaches of Great Keppel Island. The largest of 18 Keppel Islands, and home to no less than 17 sandy beaches, Great Keppel Island has a rustic, beautiful feel to it and a tonne of treasures to discover.
I chose to take advantage of the calm waters protected by the reef and jumped on a kayak with Brett from Great Keppel Island Adventures to explore the island. The Southern Great Barrier Reef surrounding the island is rich with colourful coral, tropical fish and a vast array of other marine life including turtles, dolphins and giant manta rays, and paddling around, we felt like we had the entire island to ourselves.
It wasn't long before we were skimming over extraordinary displays of this, and I couldn't help but grab my snorkel and tumble into the water to explore more.
Now, don't leave the island without a bite to eat and a drink at the Great Keppel Island Hideaway Bar & Bistro near the ferry landing... With incredible views over two of the main beaches you are hard pressed to find somewhere more scenic to complement your day.
Leaving the coast behind, my adventure continued inland as I headed into the Sandstone Wilderness, towards one of its 25 National Parks, Kroombit Tops.
I’ll admit it, I’d never even heard of it, but this added to my ‘voyage of discovery’. Everything I saw that day was completely new to me, and I wondered more than once why the rest of the world was not here discovering the landscape alongside me.
I joined local guide Harry from Discover the Hinterland Tours for some expert 4WD touring. With an impressive network of 4WD tracks, Kroombit Tops is a mecca for adventure and the perfect place to really get into the thick of the environment.
We got the adventure going with some great river crossings, spotted some incredible wildlife and found our way to the scenic lookout where I could get a total perspective of the land around me. Stretching hundreds of kilometres before me, the Sandstone Wilderness is millions of years in the making, teeming with cliffs, sandstone escarpments, gorges, waterfalls, and rainforest. Over 850 species of plants live here, including some not found anywhere else, and you can’t help but simply suck in your breath and take it all in, including the enormous silence of anything not related to the natural world.
The following morning I wanted to totally immerse myself in this pristine natural environment, so donned my hiking shoes for a bushwalk in Cania Gorge National Park. Taking the route to The Overhang, the scenic and gentle trail lead through verdant rainforest, past dripping rocks that reminded you of how the gorge was carved over millions of years, along fern covered pools and across Three Moon Creek which runs the length of the gorges floor. You can also spot the legacy of more than 19,000 years of indigenous occupation in this area with incredible freehand aboriginal art along the sandstone walls.
The Overhang is your final destination, a cave that has been eroded out of the base of a sandstone cliff, and it is a spectacular place for a rest and reward.
My Southern Great Barrier Reef adventure ended further towards Bundaberg, in the idyllic Gleneden Valley, where Rohan ‘the bullocky’ Morris, his wife Fiona and their children are regenerating their historic family farm into a sustainable tourism business.
The Gleneden Organic Farm and Bullock Team is a rare example of a dying Australian art, Rohan does not use any modern machinery to farm, instead he relies on the power of his bullocks. Using a swag of complementary skills such as blacksmithing, wheelwrighting, and whipmaking, Rohan is pioneering a truly sustainable approach to farming and regenerating a land that has been subject to degradation over the years.
It is a typical working farm, with crops, cows, sheep and an enormous organic veggie patch, and visitors can all muck in and help. Kids will love feeding baby animals, helping Fiona make jam and billy tea, and watching the cows being milked, but the real highlights is watching Rohan and his incredible heritage displays. Bullocks, which each answer to their own name, take much skill to work and as much as I tried to assist Rohan, and even managed to ‘yoke’ two bullocks together, full credit goes to him and his craft.
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